Study Abroad Experience Reinvigorates Student's Purpose

A Semester in China

Sophomore Honors student Nathaniel Seres spent the fall 2016 semester studying abroad in Chengdu, China to study the country's history, culture, and language. Seres is pursuing degrees in both English and teaching English as a second language, with a minor in Chinese.

Prior to this experience, Seres had never travelled abroad. He indicated that his courses were rigorous and very different from the approach to teaching that he was familiar with in the United States. The Chinese education he received placed heavy emphasis on writing, analysis, and often extensive lectures.

"Several of my lectures went for practically three hours straight, to give an anecdotal example," he said.

Despite the rigor of his courses, he maintained his desire to learn and improve. Among his favorite courses was his course on Chinese culture, and, specifically, in learning more about China's turbulent Cultural Revolution. He was fascinated by his professor in this course because he had the opportunity to learn from someone who had actually lived through and experienced it.

"It was instances like that which made the curriculum really shine. Being able to practice Mandarin with plenty of native speakers, to hearing history from one of the most astute and articulate professors I’ve ever had, to even having guest speakers talk about the myriad of China’s strengths and weaknesses in the modern era proved to be invaluable opportunities for growth," Seres said.

In addition to learning more about Chinese culture and developing his Mandarin, Seres did not only spend his times huddled over books and working in the classroom. He utilized his time to explore China and to get to know its people to improve his understanding of the human condition from their perspective. He visited Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian. However, his most notable travel experience was to the autonomous province of Tibet.

"Being able to take in the historical and natural beauty of China was awe-inspiring, and really let me see just how beautiful the Earth could be. The people were friendly, and I managed to secure several friends that I hope to see once more. The food was spectacular, and there was a certain vibrant energy to the many events I attended. The highlight of which was a Tibetan festival complete with an open-arena stage, as Tibetans in extravagant costumes acted out classic plays from ancient times," Seres added.

Prior to this experience, Seres had never been abroad. He had to adapt to an entirely different culture, cuisine, and environment. For the first time, he felt he was truly on his own.

"I had never stepped too far from the beaten path," he said. "I had never had to look out for myself in all aspects. But it was through this experience that I grew to know where I want to be in life. I came to know the hard work that was needed, the desire to succeed that was needed, and most of all the need to step outside of the little intellectual and mental box in which we can often find ourselves. I now know that life isn’t quite the way I had thought, but this knowledge is not condemning, but rather liberating. I’m a stronger person now, and I can owe that to this little semester in China."

Looking back on his time in China, he believes the independence and autonomy he had while in China was one of the most important elements of his entire experience. He feels he learned how to become a stronger and more capable person than he was before, and he grew to know his purpose in life.

"I’d like to say I was able to absorb all of this knowledge, that I am now the expert of the Middle Kingdom, but I think it more importantly taught me of simply how much there is to know in the world, and reinvigorated the scholarly passion to learn and question that is such a cornerstone to true academic growth. It is in contemplation of the academic, cultural, linguistic and personal study of foreign knowledge that has allowed me to develop not only as a scholar, but as a person as well," Seres said.

POSTED: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 9:47am
UPDATED: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 - 1:24pm
Aaron Hanlin